Alan Orloff is the author of nine novels and numerous short stories. Most recently he won the 2019 ITW Thriller Award for Best E-Book Original, Pray for the Innocent.
His debut mystery novel, Diamonds for the Dead, was an Agatha Award finalist. His story “Dying in Dokesville” won a 2019 Derringer Award. And writing as his darker half, Zak Allen, he’s published The Taste, First Time Killer, and Ride-Along.
In his newest novel, I KNOW WHERE YOU SLEEP, Private Investigator Anderson West takes on the pro-bono case of Jessica Smith, a 20-something restaurant hostess who is being stalked. The last thing he expects is the investigation spiraling into breaking and entering, assault, and legal threats from the suspects and the victim.
Everyone seems to be a suspect—Jessica’s ex-boyfriend and current boyfriend, her incredibly creepy boss, and the suspicious reverend at her church who is definitely hiding something.
The closer Anderson gets to an answer, the more Jessica is in danger. Her stalker’s notes become increasingly threatening, and scary phone calls ramp up to terrifying photographs left at her gym, work, and home. Like everyone, Jessica has a backstory. Could the secrets of her past potentially solve everything? Only a seasoned PI like Anderson West can solve the mystery.
Orloff took some time out of his schedule to answer a few questions about his new novel for The Big Thrill.
What was your first experience as a published writer?
My debut novel, Diamonds for the Dead, came out in 2010. I didn’t really know what to expect, so I had visions of book tours with long lines of enthusiastic readers waiting to get signed copies. Piles of fan letters. Movie deals. A completely changed life. In about 36 hours, I realized how deluded I was. But there was something I didn’t anticipate—the tremendous comradery and support from the crime fiction writing community. I’ve met so many fabulous people that I almost don’t even care about book sales!
What authors or books have influenced your career as a writer, and why?
As a teen I started out reading sci-fi: Heinlein and Asimov and Harry Harrison. Then it was on to horror: Stephen King and Dean Koontz. It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I got turned on to detective fiction, primarily through Robert B. Parker (I was living in Boston at the time). I think the common thread here is great characters and great storytelling.
What will readers take away from I KNOW WHERE YOU SLEEP?
I hope they take away an enjoyable reading experience. I write crime fiction and my main goal is to entertain, to provide an escape for readers, perhaps give them the ability to insert themselves into a situation they would never encounter in real life. Having said that, I also aim to give my readers something more to think about. In this case, what would it be like to have a stalker pursuing you? To what ends would you go to free yourself?
Was there anything you discovered as you wrote I KNOW WHERE YOU SLEEP?
I think I had some idea of how harrowing being stalked could be, but the research I did served to confirm it, and then some. With the prevalence of social media, it’s easier than ever to infiltrate someone’s life and create terror. And, unfortunately, I think that most stalker “situations” don’t always have happy endings.
You have written nine novels. How difficult, or easy, do you find it to keep coming up with plots, characters, and endings?
Not to sound trite, but each novel is its own thing. For some, the plot flows and the characters are a challenge. For others, the characters seem so vivid in my mind but the plot seems to sag. It’s rare for everything to click at once in the first draft. That’s what revision is for—to make sure that the plot, the characters, the settings, everything—is as good as it can be before the book gets published.
Without giving anything away, tell us something about I KNOW WHERE YOU SLEEP.
This is my first private eye novel. In many PI stories, the protagonist operates as a loner. In I KNOW WHERE YOU SLEEP, Anderson West runs West Investigations, but he’s hired his sister, Carrie, to work with him. To put it mildly, she has anger management issues and isn’t much of a rule follower, which frustrates Anderson at every turn.
How important is a writing routine for you?
When I’m in the middle of writing a draft, I’m a very disciplined guy. I set my daily word quota, then I sit down and bang out the words until I’m done. As I tell the students in my writing workshops, BICFOK! (Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keyboard): Just Do It.
When I finish my quota, I get up from my desk—sometimes in the middle of a sentence—free to do something else. Unshackled from the sheer torture that is writing.
But I’m right back at it the next day, willing, if not eager. This way I’ll know that in eight weeks (or 10 weeks, or 12 weeks, depending on my quota), I’ll have a complete first draft. It will stink, but it will be complete. Then comes the fun part—revision!
Do you often receive questions from aspiring authors, asking how they should start their path to publishing? What advice do you give them?
I teach writing workshops at The Writer’s Center (Bethesda, MD), and I get a lot of questions from writers looking for advice about getting published. Many of them seem to be more concerned about the business part of publishing than the writing part, so I have to gently redirect their attention. In my way of thinking, the path to publishing starts with honing one’s craft.
Some suggestions to improve your writing:
Write, write, and write some more. Exercise your writing muscles.
Read a lot. In your genre, and outside of your genre.
Take classes and workshops.
Join a critique group. Getting useful feedback on your work is invaluable.
Once you’ve got a revised and polished manuscript, then it’s time to worry about the business of publishing—finding an agent and selling your manuscript to a publisher. As tempting as it might be, try not to put the cart before the horse. (And watch out for clichés!)
Alan Orloff has published nine novels and numerous short stories in a variety of publications. His debut mystery novel, Diamonds for the Dead, was an Agatha Award finalist, and his thriller, Pray for the Innocent, won the 2019 ITW Thriller Award winner for Best E-book Original category. His story “Dying in Dokesville” won a 2019 Derringer Award (“Happy Birthday” was a 2018 finalist); and “Rule Number One” was selected for The Best American Mystery Stories 2018, edited by Louise Penny.
Alan likes cake and he likes arugula, but not together. Never together. For more info, visit him on his website.